BYU Bowl Is A Mountain West Conference Mess

There's something definitely wrong with this picture. UCLA fired its beleaguered football head coach Karl Dorrell on Monday, one day after being rewarded with a Las Vegas Bowl rematch against Mountain West Conference champ BYU (10-2, 8-0), one of the hottest Div. I teams in the country right now.

Dorrell was the first black football coach in UCLA history and departs with a 35-27 record. His best season was in 2005, when the Bruins went 10-2, and finished third in the Pac-10 – winning a Sun Bowl matchup with Northwestern by a score of 50-38.

For the here and now, many Bruin fans aware of the Cougars' hot streak and winning ways since their first encounter three months ago want no part of BYU. The season was disappointing enough for a proud program ranked as high as No. 11 after they beat BYU, but the indignity and strong likelihood of losing against a "lesser-conference" team it already defeated this season have many UCLA fans flummoxed and deeply troubled.

UCLA, with a 6-6 season record and a fourth-place Pac-10 finish, earned the contractual right to play the No. 17 BCS-ranked Cougars, (No. 19 in AP and USA Today Coaches Poll) that won its second consecutive outright MWC championship and boasts 16 consecutive conference victories, whether at home or on the road.

Sounds like a match made in Middle-earth heaven.

And Cougar fans thought by living and doing the right things on and off the field, magic happens. Just kidding, Ute fans.

This glass-half-empty hand-wringing doesn't change the fact that the genius (are there more than one?) that contracted the MWC champ to play the fourth- or fifth-place team of any league should be walking lockstep hand-in-hand with Dorrell into the proverbial sunset. But that's a spirited conversation better saved for another day.

Moving on…The Bruins defeated the Cougars 27-17 earlier this season on Sept. 8 at their Rose Bowl home turf, and the Cougars have the opportunity to avenge that loss. Both teams are seemingly moving in opposite directions headed into the Dec. 22 matchup.

A matter-of-fact BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said it best Sunday: "It is what it is."

He, his assistants and players are already hard at work, game-planning for what will be a hard-fought game. Mendenhall's challenge is to prevent an emotional letdown by his players who were hoping to play any team with a higher ranking and better record.

In any event, the navy blue boys from Provo will be ready to roll against their talented powder blue opponents from Westwood.

For the record, the Bruins have lost five of their last seven games, while BYU has won nine straight. Right now, UCLA players are happy to face any post-season foe, while the Cougars were hoping for another Top-25 ranked opponent. A Las Vegas Bowl win against a ranked opponent would lend more credibility to a BYU football program emerging from its 2002-2004 ashes as it re-establishes itself again as a national gridiron powerhouse.

On the heels of Dorrell's termination, Cougar fans can expect the momentarily down-in-the-dumps Bruins to be physically ready for the pre-Christmas bowl game, regardless of its still-unresolved coaching situation. This time, however, BYU is favored to win on a neutral field in a MWC city, referred to by Utah locals as "Provo-south."

UCLA boasts a 7-1 all-time series record against BYU and will be eager to show they belong in this bowl game, determined to prove they are still the big boys of the BCS Pac-10 beltway – with conference and recruiting credibility on the line. The 2007 rematch will pit former Cougar QB Ben Olson against his Mormon buddies, and there will be no love lost on the field. Off the field, it's a different story as Olson maintains a warm relationship with former teammates.

Stuck with a ill-conceived MWC TV contract that has rendered BYU's championship winning ways all but invisible to fans and poll-voters through most of the country, the Cougars can take solace in that the Las Vegas Bowl will at least be seen nationally on ESPN, something they took for granted just a few years ago.

It's easy now to second-guess the decision of higher-ups at BYU and seven other schools to break from the Western Athletic Conference in 1998 to form the MWC, inadvertently ending a now-coveted automatic WAC champion bowl bid to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. Oh, those were the days…

Cougar fans, at least, should count their blessings since the MWC champ is still not stuck with the automatic Liberty Bowl bid in Memphis, Tenn., a city and state where no conference team resides and that is far enough away to keep many loyal fans from travelling to during the Christmas season.

The good news is the Las Vegas Bowl, with its more coveted locale, is a much better MWC post-season home away from home. The bad news is someone didn't negotiate a better deal than an alternating fourth- or fifth-place Pac-10 finisher to play the MWC champion.

Now the WAC gets millions more eyeballs weekly on their ESPN-aired games than the MWC's CSTV-MTN networks, and that conference is collecting millions of dollars more after back-to-back BCS bowl game selections.

The undefeated No. 10 ranked University of Hawaii (12-0) team, which edged Pac-10 bottom-dweller Washington Saturday night, will face No. 4 ranked Georgia (10-2) in the BCS Sugar Bowl (New Orleans) on January 1. Aside from the additional primetime TV exposure, the Warriors will pocket $4.2 million for themselves and share the balance of the $10 million-plus BCS single game payout with their WAC brethren.

Last season, undefeated WAC champion Boise State upset the highly favored 10th ranked Oklahoma Sooners 43-42 at the BCS Fiesta Bowl (Phoenix) in a riveting overtime finish considered one of the most exciting college football games ever played.

Meanwhile, MWC football lurks unhappily in relative national TV obscurity with a horrendous championship bowl matchup deal.

Sour grapes, you say? You "Betcha By Golly Wow," to steal a line from the popular Stylistics hit song.

But where do the Cougars – or the MWC brain trust for that matter – go from here?

Next year, with an already potent Cougar offense expected to rank among the country's best, BYU must create its own destiny by simply beating its high profile 2008 out-of-conference opponents – Washington and UCLA – for national respect and recognition, three-peat as MWC champs, and then finally break the bias that is the flawed BCS bowl system.

A win over UCLA or Tulsa this season would likely have earned a one-loss BYU team a BCS at-large bid because they would have been ranked high enough in the polls to qualify for serious consideration.

In short, the Cougars blew it against Tulsa, a team they were expected to and should have beaten. Indeed, valuable lessons were learned in defeat, but the bottom line is this wacky year of improbable upsets at the top of the polls all year long was gift-wrapped for a BYU BCS bowl.

Moreover, there have been quiet rumblings the administrative powers-that-be at BYU "can't stand it and won't take it anymore," a memorable open-a-window-and-yell-out-at-the-top-of-your-lungs line from the movie "Broadcast News." It's premature and probably inappropriate to talk about such a sensitive topic fraught with all kinds of prickly legal issues, but all BYU fans hope this rumor has some serious legs – and some positive consequences for the Cougar Nation.

For the sake of all BYU fans that live and do right on and off the field, cross your collective fingers and pray that magic happens. I'm still kidding, Ute fans…

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